Today, we’ve got yet another law student employment train wreck. When you’re searching for a summer job in this economy — or really, any job at all, even after graduation — you don’t have very much bargaining power as to your starting salary. Apparently some law students aren’t familiar with this fact.
Pay close attention, 1Ls, because this is a teachable moment. If you want to negotiate for a higher salary, please don’t tell a law firm managing partner that you consider his firm’s summer wages to be on par with those of a “McDonald’s hourly worker”…
Some people go to law school not in the hope of making buckets of cash, but to bring justice to their communities. With long hours and low pay, being a government attorney is a noble pursuit. The catch is that some of these poor souls didn’t know just how poor they’d actually be.
To that end, they certainly didn’t expect that they’d be paid a lower salary than the courthouse custodian, and they had no clue that they’d be members of the working poor.
Which state is allowing entry-level government attorneys to live in squalor?
In 1983, when I graduated from law school, essentially no one wanted in-house legal jobs, and people who worked in-house weren’t held in very high regard.
To the contrary: With few exceptions, in-house lawyers were viewed as failures. These were the folks who couldn’t succeed at real jobs. People went in-house because law firms wouldn’t have them; jobs with short hours, low pay, no challenging assignments, and no stress were the only available alternative.
That was not simply my narrow-minded perspective. It was the widely shared belief of generations of lawyers who came of age in the law before about 1990. I recently had a drink with the general counsel of a Fortune 250 company, and he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) told me that he could never be a success in his father’s eyes: “My father was a partner at a major law firm. He was pleased with me when I clerked for a federal appellate judge, took a fancy government job, and later became a partner at a big firm. But then I went in-house, and he lost all respect for me. He wanted me to ‘succeed’ in the law — to try high-profile cases and argue important appeals. When I went in-house, he quickly decided that I was a failure, and there was never any chance that he’d change his mind.”
What is a law firm? Unlike a lot of businesses, there are really no assets except the lawyers and (in some instances) the brand name. For most law firms — especially newer firms and start-ups — there is no brand name; that leaves the lawyers as the only assets. And for brand-name law firms, if the talent starts to leave, eventually the brand dies.
As one of my partners once said to me: “Bruce, all of the assets of this business go down the elevator every night. Your job is to get them to come back up in the morning.” He just said it casually, but it hit me strongly later on as I realized he was completely right. The entire point of running a law firm was to keep the lawyers in the firm. You can always get more clients if you lose them, but without the lawyers, you have nothing to sell and it is game over.
Accordingly, to answer the question posed at the outset as to what a law firm is…. it is a collection of lawyers who are together because they wish to be together. If they don’t wish to be together any more, then they leave, and that is the end.
I assume that a typical law student reader of Above the Law is attending an elite law school, has awesome grades, and is being groomed to be the next SCOTUS clerk or equity partner of a Vault 20 firm. If this describes you, then don’t waste your time reading the rest of this nonsensical piece. But if you are one of the rare outliers who has a few B pluses staining his résumé, you will have to make some strategic moves during your 2L and 3L years or you are likely to be jobless after graduation.
Since another law school year is almost over, I want to interrupt my regularly scheduled Back in the Race programming to give some advice to law students that I wish someone had shared with me. The advice I provide is time-consuming and stress-inducing because it will require working, studying, and more. To make things worse, as post-graduation employment numbers remain bleak, following my advice will not guarantee employment. But I hope it will make the reader a more competitive candidate for employment in this challenging job market.
* According to the latest Citi report, Biglaw was looking pretty good during the first quarter of 2014. Revenue was up by 4.3 percent — the best first quarter results since 2008. Hooray! [Am Law Daily]
* Nice work if you can get it: Gibson Dunn, the firm hired to handle New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” investigation, billed about $1.1 million for roughly two weeks of work. [NJ.com]
* A “perfect storm” of too many grads and not enough jobs caused the decline in law school enrollment. The solution is obviously online learning instead of lowering tuition. Yep. [New Hampshire Public Radio]
* Our congratulations go out to Catherine Wauters of George Mason Law, winner of BARBRI’s inaugural public interest fellowship! (Our very own managing editor, David Lat, served as one of the judges.) [CNBC]
* The latest football franchise to face the wrath of underpaid cheerleaders is the New York Jets. Members of the team’s “Flight Crew” say they make less than minimum wage to shake their pom poms. [Bloomberg]
It’s not surprising that law grads from top-50 schools have better job prospects than graduates from less prestigious law schools. What’s surprising is how large the gap is.
While there are more than 200 ABA accredited law schools floating around, the employment outcomes from those beyond the first tier are embarrassing. All law schools will tell you that their education is worth the high price of tuition… but it seems that around 150 of them are lying.
Last week, Above the Law released its second annual law school rankings. We rank the top 50 law schools, using the most recent employment data (from the class of 2013). It turns out that those recent employment stats suggest that there are really only 50 schools worth going to — at least if you want to get a job after you graduate from law school.
* When it comes to billing rates, starting at the junior level, female law firm partners are still lagging behind their male counterparts by an average of 10 percent less. Boo. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
* Just in time for the graduation of one of the largest law school classes in history, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the legal sector is shedding jobs. That sucks. Sorry Class of 2014. [Am Law Daily]
* Law school deans are dropping like flies. Since last week, at least three have announced their intention to leave their positions. We know of one more that we may discuss later. [National Law Journal]
* If you want to work as an attorney, your odds are better if you go to a Top 50 law school. Seventy-five percent of Top 50 grads are working as lawyers, compared to 50% of all others. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* The verdict is in on the latest Apple v. Samsung patent case, and Apple is probably pretty miffed it was awarded only $120M this time, since lawyers for the company requested billions in damages. [Reuters]
* Laura LaPlante, a 3L who was set to graduate from U. Chicago Law on June 16, RIP. [Chicago Tribune]
I have received hundreds of emails over the past few months from job seekers, and today I would like to answer some of these questions.
The Recruitment Team
1. Do you take a sadistic pleasure in rejecting candidates?
I have received emails calling me “smug,” “arrogant,” “fat,” and “in all likelihood unattractive.” I am fat and, on most days, unattractive, so well done on that front. However, I am not smug or arrogant. BigLaw is a particular work environment, and it is an environment that I have observed firsthand for 20 years. I am trying to provide readers with some inside information. Please recall that it is just a singular viewpoint on a huge industry.
Neither I nor my colleagues enjoy denying smart people who have worked hard a chance to work in the setting of their choice. There is nothing gratifying about rejecting a candidate.
2. Does the scan of the applicant’s transcript come before or after you review the résumé?
If you are considering a virtual law practice, you know that many of today’s solo firms started that way. But why are established, multi-attorney law firms going virtual?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Reduces malpractice risk
Enables you to gather the best attorneys to fit the firm, regardless of each person’s geographic location
Leverages mobile devices and cloud technology to enable on-the-spot client and prospect communication
Transitioning in-house is something many (if not most) firm lawyers find themselves considering at some point. For many, it’s the first step in their career that isn’t simply a function of picking the best option available based on a ranking system.
Unknown territory feels high-risk, and can have the effect of steering many of us towards the well-greased channels into large, established companies.
For those who may be open to something more entrepreneurial, there is far less information available. No recruiter is calling every week with offers and details.
In sponsorship with Betterment, ATL and David Lat will moderate a panel about life in-house and we’ll hear from GCs at Birchbox, Gawker Media, Squarespace, Bonobos, and Betterment. Drinks, snacks, networking, and a great time guaranteed. Invite your colleagues, but RSVP fast, as space is limited.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.